CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern freshman Christian Keeling tallied a career-high 33 points and the Bucs locked up Radford defensively to register a 70-64 win at the Buc Dome on Wednesday.
CSU (5-11, 1-4 Big South) led the game for over 37 minutes, in part, by limiting Radford (8-9, 3-2 Big South) to 37.5 percent shooting and forcing 15 turnovers. The Highlanders entered play in an early five-way tie for first place in the Big South standings but were stymied as the Bucs snapped a seven-game losing streak.
Keeling posted 15 first half points to help CSU build a 35-30 halftime lead. The Bucs pushed the advantage to as much as 14 twice in the second half and kept a double digit edge for much of the stanza. Armel Potter supported Keeling with a solid all-around performance, notching 11 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals.
CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh hopes his club can continue to build confidence with still two-thirds of the conference season ahead.
"If any team needed a win, I think we would be on top of the list," Radebaugh said. "I thought we played well and earned a hard-fought victory. On the defensive end, we were much improved. We chased them off those double staggers and ball screens all night."
"I thought Christian was outstanding," Radebaugh continued. "Christian brings us confidence. When he plays up to his fullest ability, he's not only one of the best freshmen in the league, he's one of the best players in the league. I'm really proud of him. He hit big shots, big free throws. He's a winner and I'm glad he plays for our team."
CSU started the second half with a 9-1 run to send its lead to 13 by the 16:09 mark. Keeling finished that spurt with a pull-up jumper and a three-point off a feed from Potter. Following a dunk by Radford's Ed Polite, Jr., Cortez Mitchell drained a triple to give the Bucs their first 14-point cushion of the night.
Potter buried a pair of free throws five minutes later to put CSU ahead, 52-38. Radford had an opportunity to get back into contention thanks to a 6-0 spurt that cut its deficit to 54-46 on a Donald Hicks' trey with 6:46 remaining. The Bucs kept their composure, though, eventually inching the lead to 62-49 with 3:38 left. Another Keeling jumper and a fast break jam by Mitchell highlighted that sequence.
Radford came as close as six on Polite's layup with 1:01 on the clock but CSU hit five of its final six free throw attempts to salt away the victory.
"I'm really proud of the way we finished the game," Radebaugh said. "Our press offense was excellent. We work on it every day, since August, and tonight we executed it. I think we were really good in all aspects. I think we can continue to play a little bit better, though. I thought we missed a lot of open shots that are just confidence shots. As we win some more games and get some more confidence, those shots will hopefully go down."
Stellar defense and a 10-for-17 start from the field helped CSU get out to a 29-18 advantage by the 7:15 mark of the first half. Keeling and Potter controlled play as the Bucs methodically manufactured an increasingly larger lead for much of the period.
Radford cut into the margin, drawing within two twice, late in the half. The first came on the strength of a 10-1 spurt, making the score 30-28 with 2:50 left. Justin Cousin, who scored 14 of his team-high 23 points in the first half, buried a pair of threes to help the Highlanders cause. Keeling sailed home one of his three treys for the final points of the half to put CSU up by five at intermission.
CSU plays host to UNC Asheville on Saturday. The Bulldogs are in a three-way tie atop the league at 4-1. Tipoff at the Buc Dome is slated for 5:30 p.m.